MS Dhoni is not prone to admiring his shots. He may be far from technically correct, but has his ways to get going. And then the opposition knows he can take on anything they throw at him.
On Tuesday, after missing a pull shot, Dhoni had his eyes fixed on the slow motion replay on Seddon Park’s giant screen. Perhaps the manner in which his top-order batsmen threw in the towel against New Zealand’s pacers was playing in his mind.
In the end, Dhoni’s joint highest score -- opener Rohit Sharma also made 79 -- and his unbroken 127-run with Ravindra Jadeja (62 no) were not enough to save India from a humiliating seven-wicket defeat, handing New Zealand an unassailable 3-0 lead with a game to spare. The tie in Auckland suggested India would raise their game, but they crumbled in all departments against rivals who stuck to the job with the bat and ball, and on the field.
Having been reluctant to change his thinking, Dhoni rang in the changes with the series on the line. He again won the toss but elected to bat first. The struggling Shikhar Dhawan and Suresh Raina were out and Ambati Rayudu and uncapped all-rounder Stuart Binny came in. But the batting reshuffle didn’t provide any momentum.
Live report of the match
It was all about Ross Taylor. His unbeaten 112 was further proof of how the batsman has recovered from his low that followed his axing as skipper by coach Mike Hesson. His 98-run tango with Brendon McCullum was the icing on the cake, the skipper smashing the winning six. India looked relieved it was over.
Taylor and Kane Williamson blunted any Indian fightback with a century stand. The India
pace bowlers were wayward and the fielders compounded the misery. Williamson, 23, got to his fourth half-century in a row. As in the previous games, he was the sheet-anchor. His willingness and ability to rotate the strike is what has allowed the Kiwis to stick to their game.
India’s top-order batsmen, by contrast, have perished looking for big shots without willing in to put in the hard work.
Rohit Sharma held one end up after being floored on 14 by Taylor, but there was no fluency in his innings. Virat Kohli, asked to open, and Ajinkya Rahane had both fallen cheaply, miscuing rising deliveries. Rayudu’s 79-run partnership with Rohit looked like setting up a platform when he threw his wicket away, again to a short delivery.
Rohit nicked Williamson’s part-time spin to offer a leg side catch when a century was there for the taking. Dhoni and Jadeja added 100 runs in the last 10 overs, but Kyle Mills and Tim Southee gave away little on a two-paced pitch, the wide full toss and slower deliveries used to great effect.
Any hope of a special effort on the field was dashed. Dhoni had built pressure by bowling Ravichandran Ashwin and Jadeja in tandem. They gave away just 30 runs in a 10-over phase. But he took them off and kept shuffling the attack in the hope a wicket would fall. It only resulted in Taylor and Williamson knocking off 72 runs in the next 10 overs.
It was a comedy of errors on the field. Varun Aaron misfielded like fast bowlers of the past. A Kohli overthrow went to the boundary. And Jadeja and Rayudu collided to drop a McCullum mishit. On the 2002 tour, India floundered on seaming pitches. This time, the world champions have not shown the stomach for a fight on good surfaces. More misery awaits them in this series if they don’t drastically improve.